Author: David Alton
The Case For A Greater Liverpool Combined Authority
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Storey, not least because in the 1970 general election, what seems like a million years ago now, we were both students and friends, and I sent him out on his first election
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day experience. Sad to say, he returned later that day minus the wheels of his car. I thought that that might put him off politics for the rest of his life, but it did not do so. On this occasion I am happy to be able to concur with what he has said, and I thank the Minister for the way that she introduced the orders.
Personally, I entirely approve of and agree with the decision to allow local authorities to create combined authorities. I think that they will encourage strategic cohesion and be a catalyst for economic development, notably job creation and transport, as we have just heard. It will allow the regions to speak to central government with a more united and stronger voice. It will create partnership between boroughs, in this case referring specifically to those on Merseyside, it will create cohesion and partnership between six boroughs, and it will not give disproportionate power to any of them. It is worth saying in this context that some 84% of those living within the city region work there.
I was struck by a report for Liverpool City Council produced in August 2013 by the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson OBE, which he has been good enough to share with me. He states:
“A Combined Authority is not a merger or a takeover of existing local authority functions nor would be a ‘Super-Council’. Instead it would seek to complement local authority functions in economic development regeneration and transport and enhance the effectiveness of the way they are discharged”.
I was struck when reading that report and an earlier one produced in July 2013 by the reasons given by the mayor about why a combined authority would be so worth while. In the earlier report he states that,
“current governance is not helping rebalance the”—
Liverpool city region—
“economy quickly enough; the structural issues highlighted remain issues; a more collaborative approach is required for change; and there is a lack of coordinated delivery structures at present”.
In the August report I see that he points out some of the other challenges facing the Liverpool city region and talks about the opportunities that would be created if such a body was to be set up.
As a one-time member of Merseyside County Council and Liverpool City Council and as a Liverpool Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, I was saddened to see the title of the Liverpool combined authority as it appears on the order which has been laid before the Grand Committee.
The Minister said by way of a curtain raiser to her excellent speech that she thought that this was one of the issues that was most likely to be raised today. Whatever else might be said in its favour, the title, “Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority”, hardly trips off the tongue. This nine-word title is not just clumsy, it is a missed opportunity. This is not just about nomenclature or that ugly word “branding”, which has been used today.
In the early 1970s when Merseyside County Council was established, it puzzled me then that while Greater Manchester capitalised on a name that immediately told everyone in the world where it was, we were not to be known as “Greater Liverpool”, but as Merseyside.
It was a decision based on petty rivalries and parochialism rather than on what was in the best interests of the common good. That lost opportunity weakened Liverpool and actually played into the hands of some of those
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who were agitating against the city and were exploiting some of the problems in the community during the 1980s, disfigured Liverpool’s reputation.
Liverpool is at the very heart of the conurbation, and if a body’s heart is not well cared for, all the other organs will fail, too. During the past two decades the regeneration of Liverpool has become a sine qua non for the regeneration of surrounding boroughs. That success story is something that everyone in the six boroughs should be proud of and celebrate.
I am always struck that wherever I have travelled, even in remote parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, Liverpool’s name immediately elicits a response.
It is synonymous with sport, music and culture. Just think of the extraordinary success in which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was involved in 2008—the Capital of Culture. I do not think that anywhere that has been designated a Capital of Culture has been able to rival the success of that year. Think of the city’s maritime legacy and its world-class universities. I declare an interest as holding a chair at Liverpool John Moores University. Liverpool’s international reputation is further enhanced by the extraordinary work of its school of tropical medicine.
I know from my time as chairman of the Merseyside Special Investment Fund that the city’s economy is in good shape, while its directly elected mayor is proving to be a good ambassador for the city and its interests.
He has also been chair of the better-named Liverpool City Region cabinet for the past three years.
That post of elected mayor was created as a result of the Liverpool Democracy Commission, which I helped to found and on which I served. It has proved to be a great success for the city of Liverpool.
In 1207, King John gave Liverpool its Royal Charter. Since then, there never has been a time in which Liverpool has not been the engine room for the region. It correctly describes itself as “the whole world in one city”. I agree with the Liverpool Echo’s assessment that the city is working,
“at a pace we’ve not seen for, arguably, the last 100 years”,
“it’s growing, it’s exciting and it’s the envy of most of its rivals”.
It is important to underline how vibrant the surrounding boroughs remain. In my professional life, I worked in two of those boroughs and, through the good citizenship award scheme that I founded at my university, I have been able to spend time in those neighbouring boroughs. The award scheme underlines what wonderful young people are emerging all over the region. It is their future that is at stake here, and it is their talent that the combined authority has to harness.
The new authority needs to be instantaneously recognisable. It needs a name that carries clout. It needs a name that exudes confidence and strength. People might mistakenly ask, “What’s in a name?”. “Everything” is the answer. A tongue-twisting piece of gobbledegook is no substitute for a name that would command immediate recognition, and I therefore hope that what the noble Baroness has said this afternoon—that it would be within the discretion of the authority to choose a name that resonates—will be heard loud and clear by the leaders of those six boroughs.
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David Alton ( Lord Alton of Liverpool).
Power Point presentation to accompany a talk given at Brentwood in March 2014 entitled “Paying a Price for Belief.”:http://davidalton.net/media/ Paying A Price For Belief Brentwood 2014
The lecture is also now on the Brentwood Cathedral website twitter feed http://www.cathedral-brentwood.org/blog-2/
Paying a Price For Belief
Brentwood: March 12th 2014.
Barely a day passes without reports of some new atrocity being committed against Christians. These are four stories from the last few days from just one country – Egypt:
1. Arabic media has reported the murder of a Syrian Christian family who had been living in Alexandria. A 44-year-old man, his 35-year-old wife, their six-year-old son and the wife’s brother were stabbed to death at their home on 17 February. The attackers set the house on fire.
2. In a separate incident, a 30-year-old Christian woman, Madline Wagih Demian, was killed in an attack on a Christian community in Kom Ombo, Upper Egypt. A knife-wielding Muslim man went on a rampage, targeting two Christian-owned pharmacies.
3. Over the past two years, there have been more than 150 reported kidnappings of Christians in Minya Province in Upper Egypt, Criminal gangs have been able to operate with impunity. Payments extorted from families in exchange for their loved ones’ release range from US$7,000 to US$500,000.
4. Christians were the victims of a terrorist attack in Sinai where the Jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis carried out a suicide bombing on a tourist bus carrying 31 South Korean Christians who were visiting historical Christian sites. Four people were killed and 14 injured. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has threatened further attacks on tourists and also to topple the interim government.
Yet, in the face of reports like these, from all around the world, the West, including some Christian leaders, seem to be in a state of complete denial about the existence of religiously motivated persecution in countries like Nigeria or Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sudan, Iran, Egypt, China and North Korea.
Even in the UK we see examples of religious intolerance and discrimination – such as the dismissal of two Catholic midwives for refusing to take part in an abortion or the sacking of a Christian woman for refusing to remove her cross. And from Yorkshire where a college was told to remove Easter and Christmas from the calendar in case it offended people; to a Perth Hospital told to remove Communion Table or the attempt in Devon to force Bideford Council to ban prayers at the beginning of their meetings we see depressing examples of intolerance.
A poll showed that more than four out of five churchgoers (84 per cent) think that religious freedoms, of speech and action, are at risk in the UK. A similar proportion (82 per cent) feel it is becoming more difficult to live as a Christian in an increasingly secular country.
But tonight I want to highlight the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians which takes place without hardly a murmur of protest – and also challenge the mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us.
Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking – and which too often reduces God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief – and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, at the hands of radical Islamists and atheists alike – we will sleep-walk into a tragedy which has implications well beyond the ancient biblical lands or East Asia.
The two greatest fault lines of our times are the fault lines between Christianity and secularism and Christianity and Islam.
Yet, religious illiteracy amongst policy makers in Western nations means that the way we view these conflicts has led to serious mistakes being made and unless we are very careful those same mistakes will come to have consequences in our own back yard.
Policy makers, intelligence services and the media need to have a much more considered understanding of religious radicalisation and intolerance.
The first thing we must do is ensure that we examine events through the lens of the frequently overlooked and neglected Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 18, “the orphaned right”, was fashioned in the aftermath of the annihilation of millions of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. It boldly states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Yet, for millions of people this right to believe, or not to believe, is not worth the paper on which it is written – and like the United Nations’ much celebrated doctrine of “a duty to protect” creates the fiction that something promulgated will be championed and upheld.
And what does a society lose when it fails to uphold the right to religious belief and fails to promote toleration and diversity?
In 1965 the Second Vatican Council, in Dignitatis Humanae, put it succinctly:
“A society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched; one that doesn’t will decay”.
And, speaking at Westminster Pope Benedict Emeritus said:
“Strengthening religious freedom consolidates social bonds, nourishes the hope of a better world, and creates favourable conditions for peace and harmonious development, while at the same time establishing solid foundations for securing the rights of future generations.”
In country after country, all of this has been ignored. And what has happened to the duty to protect, or Article 18, in a country like Syria, where Christians, some of whom fled from the persecution in neighbouring Iraq, have been caught in the unremitting cross fire and targeted by radical Islamist groups?
In October 2010, 58 Christians were killed during evening mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad: 1.4 million Christians reduced to 150,000.
Little wonder that Pope Benedict on his visit to the Holy Land remarked: “Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence”
Or consider the daily bombardment by the Sudanese Government of mainly Christian populations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Or, there is the plight of Egypt’s Copts. Think of the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
Take Nigeria where, as February ended, Boko Haram – which means eradicate western education and influence – murdered, in cold blood, twenty nine students of the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, while they slept in their student hostels . Days later Boko Haram began the month of March with two explosions in Maiduguri leaving at least 50 people dead. The north-south conflict in Nigeria is reminiscent of Sudan – when 2 million, mainly Christian people, were killed, Christian pastors have been beheaded by Boko Haram who openly say their interim goal is “to eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country.”
When their depredations are reported at all, Boko Haram are simply described as a terrorist group. What analysis is made of what motivates them to drive a jeep laden with explosives into a packed Catholic church in Kaduna or to kill students whose crime is to embrace Christianity?.
Turn the tables for a moment and ask yourself what reaction there would be in the Islamic world if, heaven forbid, Christian gun men stormed a student dormitory and murdered dozens of sleeping teenagers; or if mosques in Bradford, Marseilles or Dusseldorf were burnt to the ground and believers praying there were car-bombed by suicide bombers.
Or imagine the consequences if your daughter, on her way to study at school, was abducted and decapitated; or if your Christian family or friends who could trace their antecedents across two millennia, joined the exodus, now of biblical proportions.
Although religious persecution can affect people of all faiths and none (a young atheist has just been released in Indonesia after serving two years in prison for stating on Facebook that he did not believe in God), in every single country where there are infringements of Article 18 Christians face persecution.
For instance, Rohinga Muslims face persecution in Burma, Bahais face persecution in Iran, Tibetan Buddhists face persecution in China, but in every single country where persecution occurs because of religious belief Christians are in the front line.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who, last month, chaired a Congressional Hearing on religious persecution, said that Christians “remain the most persecuted religious group the world over.” This echoes a recent remark of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who also said that she believes Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today.
Giving evidence to Congress, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See Mission at the United Nations described “Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet.”
Experts warned Congress that many Christians around the world are facing serious persecution that often goes unreported and undeterred.
Other speakers at the hearing testified about violence against Christians in India, Nigeria, Myanmar, Sudan, Eritrea, and Indonesia. According to a Report by the Pew Centre between 2006 and 2010, Christians were harassed in 139 countries around the world.
Tonight I am going to talk in more detail about three countries where being a Christian requires you to pay the ultimate price for your faith: North Korea; Pakistan and Syria; and I will conclude by both recalling the price which was paid in our own country that we might have the freedom to be Catholic and to ask whether we use our freedoms to defend those rights and to champion those who are denied them.
Last week, as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I hosted a visit to Parliament by Hea Woo, a Christian survivor of a North Korean labour camp.
In her testimony to the meeting, Hea Woo gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a the camp – where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. In such places the dignity of human life counted for nothing.
“Sometimes we had soup with nothing in it, just full of dirt,” said Hea Woo. “In some places whole families were put into camps. They separated the men from the women and even if they saw each other they couldn’t talk to each other. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don’t have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn’t let the family members outside know. “
Becoming an illicit Christian in North Korea, worshipping in one of the country’s underground churches, is a serious crime with terrifying consequences.
Some believers, one of whom stayed with my family over Christmas last, and who have escaped from North Korea, say that they had never seen a church or a Bible before leaving the country.
Any of those caught in illegal church services or found with religious artefacts are sent to the numerous camps and prisons, where they are kept in horrific conditions. Fed on starvation rations and routinely deprived of sleep, they are crammed into overcrowded cells where there isn’t even enough room to lie down. Two years ago there were reports of a further campaign of execution against Christians in North Korea.
At least 20 Christians were arrested and sent to the Yodok Political Prison Camp for their faith.
In several meetings, I raised this and other cases with North Korean officials, but was told that these reports were “lies” and that the execution of Christians was “impossible.”
It’s not execution – as Kim Jong Un’s uncle recently discovered – that is impossible, but meaningful dialogue about religious freedom which is impossible.
This is because the role of the officials is to control and not enable.
Nevertheless, Christian organisations have been able to get through the closed border and bring food and medicine into the country. These include a Catholic priest who has brought tuberculosis medicine into the country on over forty occasions and food relief which has been provided by Caritas and the Sant.Egidio Community. But as I have seen for myself, on four visits to North Korea, the suffering of its people is of a very high order.
If you were to bench-mark the findings of the recent United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of human rights in North Korea, against the thirty articles set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be difficult to find a single article which Kim Jong-un’s regime does not breach.
That Declaration was born in the in the criminality of twentieth century totalitarianism and the gas chambers of Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.
Michael Kirby, the eminent Australian jurist who chaired the Inquiry, told me that he believes that the network of gulags and camps, where over 200,000 North Koreans are incarcerated, bear direct comparison with Hitler’s camps and Stalin’s gulags.
In a damning indictment, the COI concludes that egregious crimes against humanity are being committed and are of an order which makes them sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. These “unspeakable atrocities” , include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation” and warrant a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Although Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration is often, given lip service, not so in Michael Kirby’s report.
In paragraphs 26-31 the COI state: “there is almost a complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”; that religious faith has been supplanted by a cult of “absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader” and “the State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat.”
The report cites the presence of four “official” churches – which I have visited, and all of which bear the marks of Grigory Potemkin fakery, built to deceive visitors into believing that the situation is better than it really is. These four churches are, of course, closely controlled by the state and overseen by the DPRK’s tame ‘church’, the Korean Christian Federation. These show churches exist to create an illusion of religious freedom.
On my third visit to North Korea I was allowed to speak to the congregation at the Changchung Catholic church and met with members of the congregations at the other churches.
The Changchung Catholic Church dates from 1988 but for sixty years no priest has been permitted to minister and in none of these churches is there anything that resembles true religious freedom.
At Changchung I met Jang Jae-on, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief.
He produced a congregation of around sixty people, almost all women, mostly covered with mantillas. A picture of Pope Benedict was pulled out of a cupboard and put at the side of the sanctuary. After a hymn, three men, in deacon’s vestments, proceeded to read the liturgy of the word – and we passed seamlessly from the Gospel to the Lord’s Prayer and dismissal.
Without any priest for six decades there is no Eucharist but knowing our own history of Penal Times it is impossible to believe that in Pyongyang, a city once known as “the Jerusalem of the East” that Faith has been completely eradicated. Who knows what was in the hearts of those who were worshipping at Changchung?
Ironically, another of these Potemkin churches, Chilgol church was where Kim Il Sung’s mother, Kang Pan-sok, was a Presbyterian deaconess and in another ironic twist, a Russian Orthodox church was opened in 2006 – at the request of Russian diplomats no longer wrapped in the Stalin’s flag and anxious to worship God.
Beyond the show churches Judge Kirby says that “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted. People caught practising Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination”. As if to graphically underline Kirby’s verdict, the day after the publication of the COI Report, John Short, an Australian countryman, was arrested in Pyongyang for being in possession of Scriptures.
In North Korea Article 18 is not worth the paper on which it is written. Jang Jae On, the Communist Party official who regulates religious belief, is scornful when you point him to its provisions. However, just occasionally an official will quietly mention that their family were Christians and, in the town of Anju, the mayor told me that every week for sixty years, since the Korean War, Catholics have met in the rubble of their church.
That believers are persecuted and suffer grievously is indisputable.
Just over ten years ago I met Yoo Sang-joon, a North Korean Christian who had escaped after his wife and children had died in the famine. Routinely, Yoo has been going back and forth helping others get out.
Some escapees, like Jeon Young-Ok and Shin Dong Hyok, have appeared before the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.
Jeon Young-Ok told us that she was “put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things. We were made to pull the beards from the faces of elderly people. Prison guards treated them like animals. The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame. I felt like an animal, no better than a pig. I didn’t want to live.” She added that “they tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed into it.”
Shin Dong Hyok was born in the notorious Camp 14. After a failed escape attempt, he was made to watch the execution of his mother and brother. The guards then tortured him, roasting him over a fire. Shin describes how today the Christian faith has given him healing, the ability to forgive and the strength to strive for fundamental change.
The courageous decision of so many North Koreans to tell their stories and the presence of several hundred North Korean refugees in England, and around 30,000 others now living in free countries, is a game changer.
Of course, Korea is no stranger to suffering and the story of Christian witness graphically illustrates this.
In the twentieth century the Church was a major opponent of Japanese occupation and the bravery of Cardinal Stephen Kim, and the Catholic convert, and future President, Kim Dae Jung, in opposing the south Korean military dictatorship ushered in South Korean democracy.
From the nineteenth century the Church’s martyrology lists a representative group of the thousands who have died for their Catholic Faith.
In 1984, at their canonisation, celebrated on the flat sands of the Han River, where many had been executed, Pope John Paul II described a community of Christians “unique in the history of the church” It was Korean lay-men, led by Yi Sunghun, who, in 1785, had brought the Faith to the country, not missionaries.
Among the canonised were thirteen-year-old Peter Yu, tortured on fourteen occasions, and twenty-five-year-old Andrew Kim, the first Korean priest, executed in 1846 – killed as a traitor for fraternising with foreigners.
Andrew Kim was stripped naked, and decapitated, proclaiming as he died: “This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die… God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.”
Their fate was a foretaste of what, one hundred years later, would await Christians in the post-Korean Communist State.
In a vivid account, recorded in “March Till They Die” by an Australian Columban priest, Fr.Philip Crosbie, seized in 1950, with two Irishmen, Monsignor Thomas Quinlan and Fr.Frank Canavan, and an American Maryknoll priest, Bishop Patrick Byrne, he described how they were put on starvation rations.
They were then force marched with captured Carmelite nuns and sisters from the French Community of St.Paul of Chartres. For fifty years their provincial superior, 76-year-old Mother Beatrix, had worked with the sick, the poor and Korean orphans.
When she could walk no further and lay by the roadside one of the guards shot her dead.
Bishop Byrne also succumbed and Fr Crosbie wrote of his roadside burial: “The only sign of his rank was a light cassock of black silk, with red buttons and piping. The buttons under their covering of red cloth were of metal. Some day they may help to identify the remains.”
Fr.Crosbie ended his account with a prayer for those who did not live to see freedom; and a prayer for those who had captured and abused them: “May there be none of us who will not find Him at the end!”
Perhaps on reading Michael Kirby’s contemporary account of the continued suffering in North Korea, it is a prayer we can all echo.
Let me turn to my second country study:
Pakistan – responsible for some of the worst religious persecution in the world.
At its foundation its first President, Jinnah, said:“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life and their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste and creed.”
In a population of over 172 million people, only about 1.5% (3 million) is Christians -half Catholic, half Protestant. And, for them, the reality is rather different.
March 2nd marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, murdered in cold blood and in broad daylight in Pakistan’s capital, and still no one has been brought to justice.
Bhatti was the only Christian cabinet member and although a suspect has now been brought to trial that trial has been jeopardized by death threats to the lawyers and witnesses.
Aged 42, the life of Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities, was cut short by self described Taliban assassins. His murderers scattered pamphlets describing him as a “Christian infidel”. The leaflets were signed “Taliban al-Qaida Punjab.”
A devout Catholic, Shahbaz Bhatti stands in a long tradition – from Thomas Beckett to Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe to Oscar Romero – of men willing to lay down their lives for their friends and their faith. Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder also ranks alongside assassinations which stirred consciences, precipitating change: Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr.Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy.
Shahbaz Bhatti once said: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of the cross, and I am following the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause.”
Bhatti knew his outspokenness against appalling discrimination would make him a target. He insisted his stand would “send a message of hope to the people living a life of disappointment, disillusionment and despair” adding that his life was dedicated to “the oppressed, the down-trodden and the marginalised” and to “the struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and the empowerment of religious minorities’ communities.”
Following his death, local Catholics in Bhatti’s diocese of Faisalabad fasted, prayed and venerated his legacy. Archbishop Saldanha of Lahore and the Pakistan Bishops Conference then wrote to Pope Benedict asking that Bhatti’s name be listed among the martyrs of the faith.
At the time of the murder Pope Benedict Emeritus entreated the faithful to reflect on Bhatti’s death contrasting Christian suffering with the tepid way we take our religious liberty for granted: “I ask the Lord Jesus that the moving sacrifice of the life of the Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti may arouse in people’s consciences the courage and commitment to defend the religious freedom of all men and, in this way, to promote their equal dignity.”
Bhatti’s death recalls other shocking assassinations – those of
Mahatma Gandhi, who was shot at point blank range in 1948; Dr. Martin Luther King, then aged 39, who was gunned down, twenty five years later, in Memphis, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter and then, two months after that came the killing of Robert Kennedy.
Kennedy had a profound belief in the importance of individual actions;, that each of us is made in God’s image (Imago Dei), is, therefore, of inestimable worth; and that we should neither be discouraged by seemingly impossible odds or by the intractable nature of the challenges we face:
“Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.”
The anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti’s death challenges should stir us to see politics differently: as sacrificial service: paying a price – perhaps even the ultimate one – for our beliefs..
Bhatti knew that he would lose his life.
Yet, it did not deter him from insisting on justice for religious minorities in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation. He did not run away or recoil from his calling, even sacrificing his personal life, by never marrying, which is explained was to spare a young family his anticipated fate.
Bhatti’s last breaths were uttered in defence of Asia Bibi, the illiterate Christian mother of five, jailed in 1999, for alleged blasphemy against Islam, and sentenced to death. Today she languishes in jail, still on death row. Her appeal was due to be heard on February 14th but was cancelled at short notice by officials who simply said it is “a sensitive case.”
After Shahbaz’s murder, his brother, Paul, a doctor whom I have met and know, followed him into the government to advise on “national harmony and minority affairs.” He successfully campaigned for the release of Rimsha Masih, a Christian girl who was jailed for blasphemy in 2012 even though she was mentally disabled and only 14 years old at the time. Masih and her entire family then fled to Canada.
Paul’s work led to death threats against him and he too has now had to leave the country.
In Pakistan there are regular mob rampages through Christian neighbourhoods – last March the Joseph Colony, a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, saw the torching of 200 homes and churches – and, shockingly, last September the suicide bombing at Peshawar’s Anglican All Saints Church led to carnage and many deaths.
If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Cabinet Minister, who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unresolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system?
Why should potential attackers fear the law?
What does impunity say about the prospects for a plural and tolerant society where diverse religious belief is honoured and respected?
I genuinely am staggered at our indifference to the deaths of men like Shahbaz Bhatti or Iraq’s Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, whose body was discovered in a shallow grave – one of an estimated 600 Iraqi Christians murdered as their churches have been bombed and desecrated. Hundreds of thousands fled – many to Syria – where the horror is being played out all over again.
So, let me end by talking about Syria – which starkly reminds us what happens when we fail to find ways in which to live peaceably and harmoniously with one another.
In Syria, where sarin gas has been used against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus; barrel bombs have rained down on Aleppo; and citizens have been under siege in Homs and elsewhere, are being starved to death. I was particularly struck by the death of an unborn child killed by a sniper’s bullet, shown on a scan, lodged in its brain.
Vast numbers of people are suffering – and no-one more so than the ancient Christian community caught in the cross-fire. It’s reminiscent of earlier “never again” moments of history – but the chaos has also given some of the radical opposition groups never again happens too often all over again. For some, this has also provided a pretext, a convenient cover for opening a new chapter of religious persecution.
I first went to Syria in 1980. I arrived in Damascus on the day war broke out between Iran and Iraq. It lasted for eight years and claimed more than 1 million lives.
My visit was three months after the Muslim Brotherhood had made an assassination attempt on Ḥafez al-Assad (the current President’s father). His response was then to align Syria with Iran. King Hussein declared Jordan’s support for Iraq. One week after we met in Damascus, Assad was in Moscow signing a mutual friendship treaty. Depressingly, the lines in today’s conflict are not newly drawn.
In 1980, I wrote about the repressive nature of the region’s regimes—repressive then and repressive now. Iran’s human rights record remains appalling. Saudi Arabia, referred to in endlessly as our strategic ally in the region, also commits egregious violations of human rights, including the persecution of Christians, and remains one of the deadliest exporters of global terror.
But, the “Afghanisation” of Syria, with vast tracts falling under the control of dangerous jihadist groups, would hardly represent progress.
These various factions – all reducing God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief – are largely at war with one another.
Describing them as the opposition conjures up images of a coherent and united group akin to opposition groups in parliamentary democracies. We should be very wary of using such descriptions. Take ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – which uses suicide bombers; now controls territory in north-eastern Iraq and uses radicalised recruits ( like Anil Khalil Raoufi, a British Afghan who was studying engineering at the University of Liverpool and was recently killed in Syria in fighting between rebel groups). We should reflect for a moment on their ideology and world view. There will be no room in their brave new world for anyone of dissenting opinion or belief. For Muslims, too, a word devoid of minorities, will be a less tolerant place, a monochrome world lacking in diversity or pluralism.
It will also have effects on the countries where there was once great co-existence between Muslims and their neighbours. Take a country like Indonesia.
The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict identifies the radicalisation of young Indonesian men who have gone to Syria via Turkey. Their director Sidney Jones says:
“Jihadi humanitarian assistance teams now appear to be facilitating the entry of fighters as well”.
In appealing to hatred, many jihadists cite a seventh-century directive which requires Christians to convert to Islam and pay tribute to Muslim rulers or leave. It is being increasingly enforced by extreme Islamist groups.
Their edict states that Christians are required “to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor… They must not hide their status, and can pay in two instalments per year.” They are forbidden to renovate or build churches or to display the cross. To underline this, several Orthodox nuns who were abducted by opposition groups have had their crosses removed from their habits.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, an academic based at the University of Oxford University and an expert on Iraq and Syrian jihadists, said the imposition of the jizya was derived from a verse in the Quran, which demanded submission by the “people of the Book” - Jews and Christians – who did not follow Islam. On the Syria Comment website, he went on to say: “In case ISIS’s ambitions to a global caliphate were still not apparent to anyone, ISIS’s official Twitter account for Raqqa province had this to say on the imposition of the dhimmi pact: ‘Today in Raqqa and tomorrow in Rome.’”
It was the late King Hussein who offered the wise advice to pray for God’s protection against,
“those who believe that they are the sole possessors of truth.”
These sole possessors of truth represent the biggest stumbling block in finding a peaceful way forward out of this confessional morass and in Syria they also represent the biggest danger to Alawites, Druze, Muslims from other traditions than their own, and Christians, and also the rights of women.
Almost 1,500 years ago a wandering monk called John Moschos described the eastern Mediterranean as a flowering meadow of Christianity.
That meadow is today a battlefield. Before the war the Christians of Syria accounted for between 4.5% and 10% of the population. What will it be after the war? Forty-seven churches have been closed; two priests and a nun have been murdered; two bishops, three priests and 12 nuns have been abducted.
The city of Homs, the third largest in Syria, has now seen almost its entire Christian population of 50,000 to 60,000 flee for safety as fighting continues in that stricken country.
The number of Christians left in the city has reportedly fallen to below 1,000.
A Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who has spent most of his life championing reconciliation, was kidnapped in July 2013 after entering rebel-held territory. Opposition sources from Raqqah said that Paolo Dall’Oglio had been executed by extremist groups. Do we seriously want to see these groups replacing one repressive regime with another?
I serve on the UK Board of the charity Aid To the Church In Need. I have been looking at first-hand accounts which they have received from Syrian Christians. Typical is this note from Basman Kassouha, a refugee now in the Bekaa Valley area of Lebanon. He says that the militias,
“stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me … I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything”.
The Maronite Bishop Elias Sleman of Laodicea says Christians have been specifically targeted in a number of places. I hope, as we collect evidence of the atrocities and crimes against humanity that none of the evidence will ever be lost to history but will one day be used to bring those responsible to justice.
Bishop Sleman says:
“There are many events that show that Christians are targeted, such as those of Maaloula, Sadad, Hafar, Deir Atiyeh, Carah, Nabk, Kseir, Rablé, Dmaineh, Michtayeh, Hassaniyeh, Knaïeh, and some villages of the Valley of Christians, Yabroud, Aafrd, the Jazirah region such as Hassaké, Ras El-Ain Kamechleh, and many other areas. Christians are increasingly targeted in horrible and unspeakable massacres”.
The mostly Christian town of Saidnaya has experienced repeated attacks by extremists. The fourth attack on the city occurred on 19 January. The ancient site of the Convent of Our Lady on Mount Qalamoun has been frequently targeted by mortars. In Homs, a Dutch priest, Father Van der Lugt, trapped in the old city, described how residents cut off for more than a year developed chronic mental health problems following the breakdown of social order. He says, “Our city has become a lawless jungle”.
In the largely Syrian Orthodox town of Sadad mass graves have been uncovered.
A total of 45 Christians were killed and 1,500 families were held hostage when Sadad was stormed by the Al-Nusra Front and an organisation called the Grandsons of the Prophet on 21st October 2013.
It was taken by government forces a week later.
Among those killed by rebels were two teenage boys, their mother and three of their grandparents. The bodies of university student Ranim, 18, and her 16-year-old brother, Fadi were discovered at the bottom of a well, close to their home.
Also brought to the surface were the remains of the youngsters’ mother, Njala, 45, and their grandparents: Mariam, a 90-year-old widow, as well as Matanios El Sheikh, 85, and his wife, Habsah, 75. Church sources say 30 bodies were also found in two separate mass graves.
At the end of last year Damascus-based Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch remarked: “How can somebody do such inhumane and bestial things to an elderly couple and their family?”
The Patriarch explained that thousands fled Sadad and initially were too afraid to return in case of further atrocities. Reports from the town described how vulnerable people unable to escape—including the elderly, disabled, women and children—were subjected to torture and some were strangled to death. Churches have been damaged and desecrated, while schools, and government and municipal buildings have also been destroyed.
The imposition of Sharia Law in Syria and in vast tracts of the world represents a challenge to Western democracies and human rights.
So does the nature of Global Jihad and militant Islam. Our secular society in which we have in the last two centuries, enjoyed religious toleration and increasing religious co-existence is under significant threat but we seem to be sleepwalking into this danger.
While we overlook and fail to understand the religious dimension to these terrible atrocities, and the imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions, we will utterly fail to end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.
We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties, need to ask ourselves some tough questions about the disproportionate nature of the causes which we so readily embrace whilst ignoring the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist “Final Solution” directed at the Christian minorities.
Hundreds of parliamentary hours can be spent asserting the rights of foxes or on discussing rights associated with our life- styles but when it comes to the killing of children and students, or the torching of their homes and places of worship, or the destruction of centuries old culture, our political classes have taken Trappist vows. This stems from a misplaced belief that their silence about radical Islamist groups represents “tolerance”. In reality it stems from fear and indifference.
Ultimately, parliamentarians are only as good as the people who elect them – so their electorates are also partly to blame for not organising themselves in the way in which pressure groups do. If political leaders have been indifferent, where here are the western churches?
Secular society has got its priorities wrong but so have western churches which too easily become intoxicated with their own introspective navel-gazing.
If I was sitting in the rubble of a Syrian or Egyptian church, or in a gulag in North Korea, or had just seen my home destroyed or, even worse, my loved ones killed, I would think that our endless self absorbed debates, which often mirror the rights-driven agenda of the secular world, are self indulgence of a high order.
If, in the face of evil deeds, secularists and Christians need to weigh up their silence and priorities, so do our Muslim brothers.
Muslims, who have often settled in our democracies, need to be much braver in breaking the conspiracy of silence and in identifying with those who suffer – among whom are many Muslim victims of visceral hatred motivated by persecution for being the wrong kind of Muslims.
Never forget that many of these families came to Europe to escape the intolerance of countries like Pakistan – where a young Muslim girl can be shot for wanting an education or its Catholic Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, can be assassinated for preaching co-existence.
Many of our European Muslims are good, law-abiding people, who want the same things for themselves and for their families as the rest of us. They are not, as some foolishly and wrongly caricature them, an enemy within. But if they remain silent it will increasingly be seen as acquiescence. It will, however, require real courage to speak out against forces which have no respect for difference or diversity, or for life itself.
As he began the slaughter of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and many others, Adolph Hitler famously remarked “who now remembers the Armenians?”. Will our generation similarly ask the question “who now remembers the Christian minorities of the Middle East and North Africa?” Or will we ask the other famous question associated with the failure to speak out for the victims of the Reich “who will be left to speak for me?”.
And finally, let us who enjoy the freedom to speak and to act not forget that these freedoms have been purchased by those who have gone before us.
From the crucifixion of Christ Himself, to the stoning to death of Stephen; from the execution of Peter, Paul and the early disciples, to the deaths of maybe as many as 100,000 people at the hands of emperors such as Nero and Diocletian; to the executions of Penal times and the mass murders of the bloodied twentieth century – when more people lost their lives for their faith than in all the previous centuries combined – we have a precious narrative entrusted to us and which must be passed to those who follow.
At this time we are thinking a great deal about the Ukraine. I first visited it before the fall of the Soviet Union. In Lviv I met Ivan Gel and Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk – who, between them had spent more than 30 years in prison for their faith. These are simply two of countless men and women who suffered for their faith in the life times of many of us.
But remember, too, those great English men and women who gave their lives that we might be free to believe.
As T.S.Eliot wrote of the murder of St.Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral:
“Wherever a saint has dwelt,
Wherever a Martyr has given his blood for Christ,
There is holy ground,
And the sanctity shall not depart from it.”
At London’s Tyburn between 1535 until 1681, 105 Catholic men and women gave their lives for their faith – a sacrifice which paved the way for the religious freedoms and liberties which we enjoy today.
The story of Tyburn is not a story calling for revenge or to be used for the stoking of old hatreds but it is an instructive story which the elders fail to tell their children at their peril.
As Edmund Campion stood on the Tyburn scaffold, he famously prayed that the day would come when he and those who were sending him to his death would meet in heaven:
“I recommend your case, and mine, to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, to the end that we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.”
Our faith teaches us to forgive but until we meet in heaven we are not commanded to forget.
The moment a nation slips into collective amnesia it risks repeating the old mistakes. Never again happens all over again.
Tyburn’s is an instructive and inspiring story which must be told because of the courage, heroism and virtue which it represents. It must be told because of the high price which was paid. We all know that when a faith is worth dying for, it is worth living for – and just as the stories of our English martyrs inspired my generation let us ensure that the sacrifices which others are making for their faith today are widely known so that their blood will not be shed in vain.
As Campion stood on the scaffold facing his executioner his blood splattered onto the young Henry Walpole, a graduate of Peterhouse, Cambridge. Walpole was sufficiently inspired to give up his law practice, to become a Catholic, a Jesuit, and in 1595, like Campion, to be hanged drawn and quartered – in his case at York.
But unlike Campion, Walpole, Margaret Clitherow, Anne Line, More or Fisher, so often we hide behind our own weakness or inadequacies as an excuse for not speaking up or taking actions.
So often we are like Tolkien’s Frodo who said : “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
As for our inadequacies, John Henry Newman once cautioned that:
“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault”
“We are not born for ourselves, but for our kind, for our neighbours, for our country: it is but selfishness, indolence, a perverse fastidiousness, an unmanliness, and no virtue or praise, to bury our talent in a napkin”
And Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked that “We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds.” and that “What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.”
In our own times we must better comprehend the price which is paid for belief and allow the courage and heroism of those who suffer so greatly to shake us out of our apathy and our indifference.
As we approach the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, you might be interested in the music video which has been produced to honour his legacy. You may view the video at http://youtu.be/21CN815v2G0. . For more information go to TheMartyrsProject.com.
Make Caste History – International Conference on Dalits and Caste Discrimination – London February 2014
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON DALITS & CASTE DISCRIMINATION: February 19th 2014, London.
Also see article (page 30 ) Justice Magazine, Spring Edition:
David Alton – Professor the Lord Alton of Liverpool.
Make Caste History
On a visit to West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi I spoke about the plight of India’s untouchables, the Dalits, and the forms of exploitation and slavery which stem from the caste system. Dalit is a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”.
200 million Dalits in India make up one sixth of India’s population and one thirty fifth of the world’s population. Dalits live in 132 countries, including countries like the UK, where South Asians have migrated.
Take Dalits and Tribals together, both of whom fall outside the caste system and experience discrimination: they comprise a quarter of India’s population and one twenty fourth of the world’s population.
Lest you think that these are historic questions let me make absolutely clear that hardly a day passes without some new horror perpetrated against the Dalits.
These are just some of stories taken from the Indian newspapers in the last seven days: Dalit woman burnt by employer for resisting rape in Bulandshahr- India Today; 5 held for gang rape of dalit girl near Dindigul- The Times Of India; Dalit woman assaulted, stripped in Hassan village- The Hindu Dalits, death and the fight for dignity – DNA; Dalit women in Haryana to march for redressal of cases of atrocities committed by upper caste men- Two Circle; Dalit Beaten Up for Touching Caste Hindu- The New Indian Express; Children protest against discrimination at school- The Hindu; No clean water for Dalits?- Kashmir Times; Sorcery slur on Dalit family- The Times Of India; Over 39,000 cases filed under Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act in 2012: Business Standard
Two hundred years ago, on 22 June 1813, six years after he had successfully led the parliamentary campaign to end the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, William Wilberforce made a major speech in the House of Commons about India.
He said that the caste system,
“must surely appear to every heart of true British temper to be a system at war with truth and nature; a detestable expedient for keeping the lower orders of the community bowed down in an abject state of hopelessness and irremediable vassalage. It is justly, Sir, the glory of this country, that no member of our free community is naturally precluded from rising into the highest classes in society”.
Two centuries later the caste system which Wilberforce said should be abolished – and which the British during the colonial period signally failed to end – still disfigures the lives of vast swathes of humanity.
India’s Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has trenchantly and rightly argued that, “untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.
Today, I would like to pay particular tribute to some of those who work tirelessly to combat caste, especially the work of Voice of Dalit International and the Dalit Freedom Network, particularly its international President Joseph D’Souza – whom I first met after he had joined forces, in 2006, with other Christian leaders after five Dalits were lynched for skinning a dead cow.
In New Delhi those leaders joined a protest, met the parents of the victims and provided their families humanitarian assistance. Dr.D’Souza said: “The statement we were making was that these Dalits were human beings, and that it was the caste system that consigned them to work with animals—a statement in direct contrast to that of a Hindu nationalist leader, who said that a cow was more valuable than a Dalit.”
In my study at home in Lancashire, I have a small terracotta pot given to me by Dr D’Souza. Such pots must be broken once a dalit has drunk out of them so as not to pollute or contaminate other castes. This is the 21st century. It is not the pots which need to be broken, not the people, but the system which ensnares them.
Dr D’Souza rightly says:
“If we are not intentional about bringing change and transformation in lives and society it will not happen. To love people is to act on behalf of them”.
As Parliament considers the new Bill on modern slavery, reflect that the Global Slavery Index, published in October last, confirmed that around half of the world’s slaves are in India – some 13.9 million out of a global total of 29.8 million, and that most of them are Dalits or Tribals. In the Hindu caste system, they are regarded as subhuman—lower even than animals and left fighting a largely unknown struggle for emancipation.
Evidence points to 80-95% of bonded labourers (the vast majority of the ‘modern slaves’ in India) being Dalits, 99% of ritual sex slaves (the 250,000 temple prostitutes known locally as Devadasi or Jogini) being Dalits, and the majority of those trafficked into brothels or into domestic servitude being Dalits or Tribals.
If you are a Dalit in India you are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or exploited in another form of modern slavery than anyone else. Much of this is brilliantly documented in Dalit Freedom Network’s booklet, “Half the World Slaves?”
According to CNN, India’s former Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, “remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India”, whether for sex or for labour.
The head of the Central Bureau of Investigation said that India occupied a unique position as a source, transit and destination country for trafficking, and that it has more than 3 million prostitutes, of whom an estimated 40 per cent are children. These statistics are hugely significant: the situation in India simply must be at the heart of the global fight against trafficking
Caste should be recognised as a root cause of trafficking, of modern day slavery and poverty and unless we raise the profile of the oppressed Dalits nothing will change.
To prepare me for this conference, Voice of Dalit International were good enough to send me a copy of Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar who was born into a family of untouchables in 1891.
When Dr. Ambedkar died on December 7th, 1956, Prime Minster Nehru adjourned the Lok Sabha for the remainder of the day having told parliamentarians that Ambedkar had been controversial but had revolted against something which everybody should revolt against – all the oppressing features of Hindu society.
Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution once remarked that “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”
Ambedkar’s life was a life of relentless struggle for human rights. Born on a dunghill and condemned to a childhood of social leprosy, ejected from hotels, barber shops, temples and offices; facing starvation while studying to secure his education; elected to high political office and leadership without dynastic patronage; and to achieve fame as a lawyer and law maker, constitutionalist, educator, professor, economist and writer, illustrates what the human spirit can overcome.
In 1927, the young Ambedkar famously led a march to the Chavdar reservoir, a place prohibited to Dalits. On arriving at the reservoir, he bent down, cupped his hands, scooped up some water, and drank—an act completely forbidden by the caste system. The Brahmins, or upper castes, responded by furiously pouring 108 pots of curd, milk, cow dung, and cow urine into the reservoir – a ritual act which they claimed would “purify” the water polluted and defiled by untouchables.
Ambedkar could so easily have taken the path of violent revolution, spurred on by bitter hatred or a need for revenge – but although others regarded his shadow as a sacrilege and his touch as a pollutant, he demonstrated why it is the caste system which deserves to be put beyond human touch not the men, women and children condemned by it.
Ambedkar made untouchability a burning topic and gave it global significance. For the first time in 2500 years the insufferable plight of India’s untouchables became a central political question. Among untouchables themselves he awakened a sense of human dignity and self respect. He repudiated the helplessness of fate, the impotent, demoralised incapacity that insisted that everything is pre-ordained and irretrievable.
He began a war against a social order that allowed caste to condemn millions to a life of irreversible servitude and social ostracism. This was an existence he had shared. “You have no idea of my sufferings” he once said. Having personally experienced life below the starvation line, the effects of destitution and squalor, the humiliation of ejection, segregation, and rank discrimination, “having passed through crushing miseries and endless trouble” Ambedkar determined to challenge these evils by entering political life: becoming renowned as a scholar-politician, sadly, a combination so little in evidence today.
Ambedkar understood that the great nation of India would never achieve its potential if it remained disfigured and divided by caste. Without freedom to marry, who they would; to live with, who they would; to dine with, who they would; to embrace or touch, who they would; or to work with, who they would, the nation could – and can – never be fully united or able to fulfil its extraordinary potential.
He believed that “the roots of democracy” are to be found “in social relationships and in the associate life of the people who form the society.” He said that “if you give education…the caste system will be blown up. This will improve the prospect of democracy in India and put democracy in safer hands.”
Education is still the best hope for social transformation. Once people are empowered by education – as Ambedkar was himself – they can begin to address issues of poverty, lack of dignity, discrimination and other dehumanising attitudes. Do not underestimate the power of good quality, English-medium education taught from a worldview that emphasises values such as dignity, equality, acceptance, human worth, and self-esteem. I say English-medium because this is the preserve of high castes, and it is still the language of opportunity – the language of higher education, government, and commerce.
India is to be admired for providing near-universal education, and there has been a rise from 7 per cent to 13 per cent in those entering higher education, but many agree that teaching remains poor and only 20 per cent of job seekers have any vocational training.
Even these opportunities tend to be denied to the dalits and the 84 million tribal people, who suffer discrimination and marginalisation. This vast expanse of humanity, trapped in a time warp, appears wholly unconnected to and at variance with India’s sophisticated economic and technological advances—and is certainly at variance with the advertising slogans, “Amazing India” and “Incredible India”.
What is truly amazing and incredible in this day and age is that “the cruel shackles” of the caste system, this “detestable expedient … a system at war with truth and nature” should persist in 2014.
While still a young man of twenty, Ambedkar perceptively wrote: “Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you.” He said that social progress would be greatly accelerated if female and male education were pursued side by side. He later insisted that “We will attain self elevation only if we learn self-help, regain our self-respect, and gain self knowledge.”
He supported Britain’s war effort against the Nazis because he said it was a war between democracy and dictatorship. He linked it to the battle for the removal of caste: “the battle is in the fullest sense spiritual…it is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.” He told his audience to “educate, agitate and organise.”
Ambedkar rightly perceived the negative effects which caste has on economic development – and in his booklet “Annihilation of Caste” he argued that caste deadens, paralyses and cripples the people, undermining productive activity by frequently denying opportunities to those with natural aptitude and through the entrenchment of servitude. Caste amounts to the vivisection of society.
Ten years ago the deadening effects of caste were recognised by the Department for International Development (DFID).
In a Policy Paper they stated that ‘Caste causes poverty’, and ‘gets into the way of poverty reduction’; that caste ‘ reduces the productive capacity and poverty reduction of a society as a whole’; and that ‘poverty reduction policies often fail to reach the socially excluded’, Dalits ‘unless, they are specifically designed to do so’.
Yet these clear and coherent priorities scandalously failed to make any appearance whatsoever in the Millennium Development Goals and although the post-2015 High Level Panel Report, chaired by David Cameron, does include a section on “Other Vulnerable Groups” and the one group mentioned by name are the dalits, we need to say and do far more. The Panel was right to argue that there is a need for “Legislative and institutional mechanisms to recognise the indivisible rights of indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, dalits and other socially excluded groups must be put in place” but how is that reflected in our day to day priorities, diplomacy and policies?
Dalits constitute 40% of the global poor and are denied of DFID Funding, because they largely live in India, which simply doesn’t make the policy priorities. This becomes a new form of untouchability.
One development worker, with 14 years experience of working among Dalits, says that “95% of development time, energy and resources are wasted on combating … a ‘general Caste mindset’…stipulating how different segments of caste based society should live as touchables or untouchables, humans or sub-humans. The whole life of more than 50% of the population, from morning till night, from birth to death, is predetermined.”
In India you can’t make poverty history unless you make caste history. As we examine what has been achieved through the MDGs and the plight of the global poor the professional development agencies need to take a long hard look at the way they target poverty. As they think beyond 2015 they need to listen, rather than impose, and develop a cross thematic framework for addressing the curse of the caste system.
Some of these agencies need to radically rethink their mindset and priorities. They will be far more effective in tackling poverty if they tackle social exclusion. The churches, too, need to play a more decisive role in recognising the existence of caste and its consequences – in India but in the UK too, where 50% of our estimated 1 million Dalits are considered to be poor.
Ambedkar also saw the role which religion could play in shaping attitudes and behaviour. He repudiated Marxist atheism and refused to be forced into a repudiation of religious faith because of its distortions. But he was scathing when he saw religion as a cause of human suffering.
He attacked Hindu priests who refused admission to Dalits to their temples and was scathing about those Christian churches which had imported the caste system into the segregation of believers. And of Islam he said:
“The brotherhood of Islam is not the brotherhood of man. It is the brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. For non Muslims there is nothing but contempt and enmity.”
He said that from his study of comparative religion there were two personalities who could captivate him – the Buddha and Christ.
Towards the end of his life he would convert to Buddhism as a protest against the failure of Indian religious leaders to reject the caste system and insisted that the spiritual dimension of mankind is bound up with 1) the sanction of law and morality (“without either society is sure to go to pieces”) ;2) that religion must be in accord with reason; 3)that religion must recognise the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and 4) that religion must not ennoble poverty.
In considering their response to caste and the Dalits any Christian from the Catholic tradition, or those running Church agencies, should ponder carefully the words of Pope John Paul II:
“At all times you must continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest castes, especially the Dalits. They should never be segregated from other members of society. Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality, and a serious hindrance to the Church’s mission of evangelisation.”
Let them also reflect that violence against Dalit Christians has intensified in recent years.
In 2008, two women—one of whom was seven months’ pregnant—were gang-raped in Nadia village, Madhya Pradesh. The village leader ordered the act after the women’s husbands refused to renounce their Christian faith. On January 16, 2006, Christian homes were set on fire in Matiapada village, Orissa. Instead of the arsonists being brought to justice, the Christians were imprisoned for nine days under the state’s anti-conversion law.
Through Dr.Ambedkar’s colossal labours caste began to decay but even now it has not died. On April 29th 1947 the Constituent Assembly of India declared “Untouchability in any form is abolished and the imposition of any disability on that account shall be an offence.” The New York Times compared it with the abolition of slavery and the freeing of the Russian serfs. The News Chronicle in London praised it as one of the greatest acts in history.
Although untouchability was barred by the constitution, the system was not dismantled. Most of the worst forms of exploitation are proscribed by statute, but all too often the laws are simply not implemented and the police further entrench, rather than protect against, caste prejudice.
This point was made repeatedly in the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in May 2007.
A damning verdict was reached also by an in-depth report by the Robert F Kennedy Centre, entitled Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1,589 Villages. It describes,
“The Government of India’s continued ignorance about the depth of the problem and inadequacy in addressing untouchability and meeting its legal obligations in regard to the abolition of untouchability”.
Some individual dalits have reached high positions in Indian society, not least Justice K G Balakrishnan, who rose to become the senior judge of India’s Supreme Court, and Ms Meira Kumar, who became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the lower House of India’s Parliament. But these are exceptions. As I heard first hand from dalits I met in India even where they are securing some kind of elementary education the opportunities for educational progress later and employment opportunities are all to frequently still blocked to them.
Consider for a moment what must be one of the most appalling and disgraceful forms of labour anywhere in the world, known euphemistically as manual scavenging. It involves cleaning human excrement from dry latrines and is uniquely performed by dalits as a consequence of their caste. The number engaged in this occupation is not known for certain, but it may be as high as, or higher than, the equivalent of the population of Birmingham.
Tens of millions of India’s citizens are subject to many forms of highly exploitative forms of labour and modern-day slavery. This often plays into the problem of debt bondage and bonded labour, which affects tens of millions. It perpetuates a cycle of despair and hopelessness, as generations are bonded to the family debt, unable to be educated and unable to escape. Tragically, the debt is often the result of a loan taken out for something as simple and essential as a medical bill.
At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.
In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, and the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace. Britain and India are democratic nations with many shared values as well as significant common economic and security interests. Bilateral trade is worth more than £13 billion annually. Our cultural, sporting, linguistic and historic links—some of which have required colonial ghosts to be laid to rest—underline the values that bind us together.
Yet, in 2014, while India is a rising world power and is rightly gaining a reputation for innovation and excellence in many fields, what its Prime Minister calls a “blot on humanity” disfigures India’s reputation and has become one of the world’s greatest human rights challenges.
Millions of people remain imprisoned by the bondage of what Wilberforce described as “the cruel shackles” of the caste system. Those shackles inevitably lock their prisoners into the most menial forms of labour, trap them in servitude and leave them susceptible to innumerable forms of exploitation.
And consider the people who are represented by the statistics.
It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; on average every hour two dalit houses are burnt down; every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; each day two Dalits are murdered; 11 Dalits are beaten; many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; 56 per cent of dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 %; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 60 million dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work;
Segregated and oppressed, the dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.
India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a dalit, Dr.Ambedkar, wrote the constitution; a female dalit became a powerful politician; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.
However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the dalits, the caste system, or the extremism which feeds off ostracism and alienation and which threatens modern India.
Although Dr. Ambedkar was able to have India’s Constitution and the laws framed to end untouchability, for millions and millions of people, many of those provisions have not been worth the paper on which they are written.
Ambdekar’s own struggle may now be history; caste is not. In our generation it is surely time to make caste history.
Combatting Rare and Neglected Tropical Diseases -
To read the full debate go to:
Thursday 06 February 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman for her assiduous and indefatigable commitment to the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. I should mention that I am a patron emeritus of the Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research. I am also a patron of a project providing clean water in Turkana and a health project in Ghana. (See:
As recently as 27 January, former Ghanaian President John Kufuor was in London to mark the anniversary of the 2012 declaration. He rightly says:
“There is no silver bullet remedy to helping a country break the cycle of poverty, but investing in the health of its population offers one of the best options for unlocking economic potential”.
Scaling up integrated NTD control and elimination strategies is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global poverty. Virtually all of the “bottom billion”, the 1.4 billion people around the world who are living on less than $1.25 a day, are afflicted with one or more of the seven most common NTDs: elephantiasis, hookworm, river blindness, roundworm, whipworm, trachoma and snail fever. NTDs disable, debilitate and perpetuate poverty and in worst-case scenarios they can kill. They cause blindness, huge swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition and anaemia—all brilliantly highlighted, I might add, in the END7 Youtube video featuring Eddie Redmayne and others. (see: How To Shock a Celebrity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYimJKg9QiE
Those afflicted include more than 500 million children. In a randomised controlled trial in Ethiopia, researchers found that consistently treating trachoma halved childhood mortality, while a study in Kenya demonstrated that deworming children leads to a 25% decrease in school absenteeism.
Compare the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, which can range from £1.75 to £3.50, to the just 30 pence — or 50 cents, half a US dollar — per person per year which is all that is needed to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDs.
This in turn averts malnutrition, improves education outcomes, improves maternal and child health, reduces new cases of HIV and sets the stage for sustainable economic development. In Africa, the entire at-risk population could be treated for £250 million or less annually. Yet efforts to control and eliminate NTDs receive less than 2% of total global health funding, and the elimination of many of the NTDs will not be achieved without significant investment in water and sanitation interventions. Such an approach should surely be central to post-2015 objectives, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister on this.
I am particularly concerned that the 2013 report of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, does not mention NTDs. Surely that should be rectified. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
Many of the curses that afflict us cannot be conquered but NTDs can.
These ancient diseases can and should be a thing of the past, and it is not misty romanticism or idealism to talk of a world free of NTDs for the next generation.
This is achievable, and we would be failing millions, and failing our duty, not to do it. My noble friend therefore deserves our thanks for keeping this issue on the agenda, and the United Nations and development agencies should be lobbied by parliamentarians and Governments the world over to make this achievable objective a reality. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government are committed to doing precisely that.
Some further thoughts and facts….
In the United States Congress allocated twice as much funding towards Avian Flu preparedness, despite the fact that Avian Flu has only caused 1,000 deaths over the past 10 years. Yet the U.S. and U.K are two of the countries which do most to work for the eradication of NTDs.
So what should be our highest priority and strategy in achieving the elimination of all seven of these wretched diseases by 2020? It will surely be a combination of providing these cheap and effective drugs linked to the provision of clean water and the involvement of yet more countries in prioritizing their elimination.
Quite often these diseases are tied to poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water.
Clean water is essential for sustainable NTD prevention. Many of these diseases can be spread by drinking contaminated water and eating food that was not properly washed. Areas with stagnant water are breeding grounds for insects that carry NTDs, notably mosquitoes, which transmit lymphatic filariasis. In many communities, key water sources harbour the parasite that causes snail fever. Whenever possible, water and sanitation programs should include NTD control measures to maximize the positive benefits of NTD interventions.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are a crucial but all too often underplayed part of the prevention and control of NTDs. The elimination of many of the NTDs will not be achieved without significant investment in WASH interventions.
Measures to improve WASH should be included in the post 2015 objectives, including a dedicated goal on water and sanitation and ambitious targets to ensure that no-one practices open defecation; that everyone has safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home and that all school and health facilities have safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
Any new framework must learn lessons from the Millennium Development Goalss. Of paramount importance is the need to recognise that further progress in improving health and wellbeing can only be made by reducing inequalities and recognising the broader determinants of health outcomes, including WASH.
The global fight against NTDs has already begun, but universal and continuous support is critical to achieving lasting results.
Long-term elimination goals cannot be reached without addressing primary risk factors for NTDs such as access to clean water and basic sanitation, vector control, and stronger health systems in endemic areas. These issues will need to be addressed beyond the World Health Organisation’s 2020 goals and as part of the post-2015 development framework.
Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) is a major cross-cutting theme at Liverpool School Of Tropical Medicine and a particular strength of the Parasitology and Vector Biology Departments.
One billion people residing in the world’s most disadvantaged communities suffer from at least one NTD, which can significantly impact upon their physical and emotional wellbeing. Typically this is combined with economic hardship when affected individuals are prevented from working and receiving education, and so NTDs perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Important questions are being raised concerning approaches to the control and elimination of NTDs. While scaling up access to preventive chemotherapy for NTDs is a priority, achieving effective treatment coverage alone is not enough to achieve the 2020 NTD targets. LSTM is working to identify and overcome critical bottlenecks by designing programmes to adopt a more flexible approach and evaluating alternative and integrated strategies to overcome the existing barriers to control and elimination (e.g. A∙WOL). In addition to preventive chemotherapy, the WHO recommends complementary strategies to accelerate transmission interruption, including vector control, the provision of sanitation and hygiene, health awareness and capacity building. LSTM is a leader in NTD research and global disease elimination/control programme management. By using a multidisciplinary approach to research and its translation into policy and practice we capitalise upon the political and financial commitments made at the London Declaration in 2012.
LSTM have begun the ‘Countdown to 2020′. Our Centre for NTD contribute to a scorecard that tracks the delivery of London Declaration commitments, highlights key milestones and targets, and helps identify priority action areas to ensure that 2020 goals are achieved or revised.
Over the past year, there has been good progress in the following:
• Pharma partners supplied 1.12 billion treatments meeting the increased requests from endemic countries.
• Donors committed over £500m to support integrated NTD programs, scale up and expand existing programmes, increase resources available for mapping, improve program strategies through research, and develop new tools.
• More than 40 endemic countries developed multi-year integrated NTD plans, and Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Uganda, Ghana and Ethiopia launched their plans. ‘Mega countries’, Ethiopia and DRC have completed coordinated mapping of preventative chemotherapy NTDs and ready to start Mass Drug Administration.
Key challenges to achieving the London Declaration goals by 2020:• Attaining significantly increased rate of up scale-up to reach targets
• Coverage and adherence issues to resolve and sustain
• Alternative/complementary strategies needed for Central Africa (areas of Loa tropical eye worm safety problems)
• Morbidity management lagging behind Mass Drug Administration
• The threat of reduced drug efficacy/resistance towards the end game
• Delivery of new tools (e.g. drugs, diagnostics) to the market in a timely fashion
• Partnership management – integration of complex programmes
• Capacity competition with other health/development programmes
• Defining and validating elimination targets and consensus on WHA resolutions
• Evaluation, monitoring, surveillance: tools need to be adopted and deployed quickly
• Verification and Certification costs and criteria to be defined
• WHO/HQ and Regional office interactions: Regional Resolutions on NTDs
• Secure necessary funding to deliver scale-up
• Post-conflict, fragile states and hard-to-reach communities, ‘Hotspot’, cross-border and urban delivery challenges
Golden Temple Attack
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, my noble friend Lord Singh has asked me to express his regrets to the Minister and to the House that he cannot be in his place, given that he has followed this issue with assiduousness and determination over a very long period, but he is at the meeting to which the Minister has just alluded.
The Minister will have seen the statement made by Bhai Amrik Singh, the chairman of the Sikh Federation, that he was “hugely disappointed” with the inquiry’s “narrow terms” and that his meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood had failed to assuage his concerns. Given that the Minister has done so much to build good relationships with the Sikh community, will she assure the House that she is willing to meet Mr Singh to discuss whether there are outstanding issues that could still be examined? Will she also comment briefly on the remarks she made about Britain’s commercial interests when she repeated the Foreign Secretary’s Statement earlier and said they had played no part at all in any of these events? Would
4 Feb 2014 : Column 103she be willing to publish a list of any arms deals that were made during the period prior to and immediately after these events in 1984?
Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord makes an important point. I think Amrik Singh is part of the delegation of individual organisations and individuals who are meeting with Minister Swire, but if that is not the case and he is not part of that meeting, I will certainly see whether appropriate contact could be made. As I said, I will be making contact myself with members of the Sikh community in the coming weeks and months. There is a wide range of opinion. I had the opportunity to discuss the matter at some length with the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and my honourable friend Paul Uppal, who is the only Member of Parliament of Sikh origin in the House of Commons. Quite a breadth of opinion has come back from the Sikh community about how far the British Government are expected to go to satisfy certain elements of that community. I completely take on board how raw this issue is—and how raw Operation Blue Star is—and to what extent certain elements of the community wish there to be a truth and reconciliation process. However, going back to what I said at the beginning, that is a separate issue to the one that we are dealing with, which is what the UK’s involvement was.
I assure the noble Lord that the advice that was given was not linked in any way to commercial interests or to a particular defence contract or negotiation. That is certainly what the documentation shows. I am not sure how much further it would take the matter to start publishing any discussions that were happening in relation to any sort of commercial activity with the state over whatever period of time. I know from my own dealings with countries that we are engaged with through UKTI that these matters can sometimes take months and sometimes years. How far would that net have to be cast? I would like to be assured, and to reassure the House, on whether there was, in this particular case, a commercial connection to the decision. I can assure noble Lords that there was not.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government who will conduct the inquiry into British involvement in the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984; when it will report; to whom it will report; and whether all the papers relating to those events have been released.[HL4709]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron)’s statement of 15 January 2014 (Official
22 Jan 2014 : Column WA130
report column: 849) confirmed that the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has been asked to lead an urgent review to establish the facts and this process is under way. These findings will be made public.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEBATED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS – the killing of Chang Song Thaek; human rights violations in North Korea; and links to personal as the United Nations Commission of Inquiry prepares to publish its findings accounts
Some links to disturbing accounts of human rights violations in North Korea:
An up-to-date, very informative, secretly filmed documentary on life in North Korea.
Secret State of North Korea – PBS (53.41 minutes)
Breaking the Silence – Journeyman Pictures (12.17 minutes)
Background to the UN Commission of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea
Hyeonseo Lee – Ted talk (12mins)
Growing up she thought her country was the best in the world, although she often wondered about the outside world. She escaped North Korea during the famine in the 1990’s. Her story focuses on her escape and resettlement, and the struggle to later get her family out of North Korea.
Joseph Kim – Ted talk (14 mins)
“Hunger is humiliation. Hunger is hopelessness…” He became an orphan after his father died and his mother disappeared. He went to China to look for his sister and crossed the border during the day because he was scared of the dark. Joseph Kim talks of his escape and resettlement in America, and how a chicken wing changed his life.
Seong Ho Ji – (9mins)
Seong Ho Ji and his brother fled North Korea in 2006 and travelled 6,000 miles across Asia before reaching South Korea. His only remaining possession from North Korea is a pair of crutches – he only has one leg.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms4NIB6xroc (Google tech talk – 1.06 hours)
http://www.libertyinnorthkorea.org/media/ (shorter version, Ted talk – 12 mins).
http://www.youtube.com/movie?v=9FZMwoY7DyM (Journeyman Pictures – 19.29 minutes)
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a special prison zone and ‘had no real feelings as a kid’. He saw his mother as the cause of his suffering. These accounts tell of his life growing up in the prison. He later escaped North Korea and described how even the North Korea outside the prison seemed amazing.
Yoon Hee lived on the streets from 8 years old. For her, food is life. She was abandoned by her parents because they couldn’t look after her. Her story as a defector portrays how life outside North Korea isn’t easy to adjust to and not necessarily safe.
Anon described the struggles in adjusting to a new life in South Korea and the disadvantages faced by students who are North Korean refugees, but how, through special programmes, the ‘country is supporting him, like a parent.
Han-sol Kim (nephew of Kim Jong-Un) – interview with Elizabeth Rehn, in two parts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_uSuCkKa3k (Part 1 – 15 minutes)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSfVOf4OACs (Part 2 – 14.32 minutes)
A fascinating interview with the nephew of Kim Jong-Un, who has bravely spoken out while studying in Europe.
LINK – Liberty in North Korea:
Danny’s Story (30mins)
He describes living under oppression and in fear, in a country where he is denied freedom of speech, religion and access to information (among other things). He tells of his escape and recalls the moment when his eyes were opened to outside world for first time and to the lies that he had been told. He dreams of being able to go back to North Korea and capture his homeland in pictures.
North Korean Refugee Crisis (3mins)
Successfully fleeing North Korea is just the beginning. This short video outlines the fears and troubles of being a North Korean refugee in China.
The People’s History (4mins)
A brief history behind the current political situation in North Korea.
HOUSE OF LORDS DEBATE
Lord Alton of Liverpool
That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,
“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.
It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.
Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.
It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.
It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations General-Secretary, has said:
“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.
But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.
China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Zedong, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.
In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an ࠬa carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.
Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.
There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.
Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr. Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?
Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?
Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?
On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?
As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?
I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 2-300,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.
I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.
I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.
Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.
In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:
“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.
Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.
More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?
In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.
We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the statement by the Hungarian ambassador to the United Nations marking the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust and recognising the failure of the Hungarian authorities at the time to protect Jewish and Roma people.[HL4975]
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi) (Con): The British Government welcomes Hungary’s commitment to address and eliminate anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, which has been demonstrated by organising the event to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust at the UN on 23 January, and dedicating 2014 as Holocaust Memorial year in Hungary. These are significant opportunities to tackle anti-Semitism and to reflect upon and learn from the past.
4 Feb 2014 : Column WA32
The UK and Hungary will work together against anti-Semitism through our forthcoming chairmanships of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.